Razia Sultana addresses the Security Council's open debate on behalf of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security (Photo: UN Photo/Mark Garten)
On 16 April 2018, under the Presidency of Peru, the UN Security Council held its annual open debate on sexual violence in conflict. Through Peru’s comprehensive guidance, the debate was framed as an opportunity to analyse how conflict-related sexual violence can be prevented and sustainably addressed, including by providing women with access to resources, advancing of women’s participation and ensuring access to justice. Speakers also actively discussed patterns and trends identified in the Annual Report of the Secretary-General on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (S/2018/250), including around structural discrimination, economic inequalities and climate of impunity as key drivers of conflict-related sexual violence. Sharing local women’s root cause analysis for sexual violence prevention and response, Ms. Razia Sultana, the first Rohingya to ever brief the Security Council, spoke about the political and humanitarian situation of women and girls in Myanmar and highlighted the impact of arms transfers and the mining industry on renewed sexual violence and humanitarian crises across the globe.
Peru’s commitment to the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda, as well as civil society engagement, demonstrated an ongoing leadership of non-permanent members of the Security Council to gender equality and women’s participation. Even though the recognition of prevention as an essential component of building sustainable peace has been articulated within the UN system much earlier, the discussion at the debate provided a focus on addressing root causes of sexual violence, including through enhancing women’s leadership, as well as access to resources and justice. Peru’s initiation of the debate during its Presidency thus marks a positive step towards eradicating sexual violence as a tool of war through an integrated and inclusive approach.
Speaking on behalf of the UN Secretary-General, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohamed urged Member States to confront structural inequalities that drive sexual violence in conflict and leave many groups most vulnerable to this type of violence. Citing the 2018 Secretary-General’s report, she highlighted that the percentage of women who hold legal title to land, for example, is often halved in the aftermath of war. Thus she confirmed that sexual violence is integral to the shadow economy of conflict and terrorism, which often forces populations to flee contested territory and allows aggressors to seize control of assets left behind. This problem is intensified when war-torn regions are left with mostly female-headed households, leaving women with limited access to resources, rights and justice.
Addressing the Security Council for the first time as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Ms. Pramila Patten outlined the SRSG Office’s new three-pillar priority agenda to addressing sexual violence in conflict. In particular, this agenda stresses the importance of: converting cultures of impunity into deterrence through consistent prosecution; addressing structural gender inequalities as the root cause of sexual violence; and fostering national ownership and leadership for sustainable survivor-oriented response by empowering civil society and women. She also invited the Council to consider the establishment of a Reparations Fund for survivors of sexual violence and create more operational responses to stigma alleviation, including through socio-economic integration support.
Civil society representative Ms. Razia Sultana, Senior Researcher at Kaladan Press, spoke on behalf of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security to provide a grassroots perspective. Ms. Sultana was the first Rohingya to brief the Council. She shared the findings of her work on the political and humanitarian situation of women and girls in Myanmar. She highlighted that the Security Council had failed Myanmar’s ethnic minorities, who have lived through decades of entrenched discrimination, rape and other human rights violations by the military operating with impunity. She linked the situation in Myanmar to situations around the world, including in places like Yemen and Syria, and called for action to addressing root causes of sexual violence in conflict. Ms. Sultana also brought attention to the need for increased policy coherence in action by Member States, noting the hypocrisy of some Member States in expressing horror at the new violence while also selling arms to Myanmar and seeking explorative licenses to mine its natural resources.
The discussion, guided by a particularly comprehensive concept note, provided a space for Member States to share good practices, lessons learned and key recommendations about the ways to prevent and address sexual violence in conflict effectively. First, recognising sexual violence as an outcome of gendered power relations, speakers called for addressing structural gender inequality and strengthening women’s empowerment through implementing gendered conflict analysis. The representatives of Sweden and France also advocated for re-channeling of stigma away from victims and towards perpetrators of sexual violence and strengthening the collection of gender-disaggregated data. Meanwhile, representatives of Bolivia, Botswana and Morocco called for greater engagement with religious and community leaders to address harmful social norms like victim-blaming and the stigmatisation of children born out of rape. SRSG Patten pointed out that to date, Colombia is the only country with legislation that guarantees reparations and care for children born out of rape.
Impunity and injustice, as immediate outcomes of gendered power relations, were identified by relevant Member State representatives as drivers of renewed violence and conflict, which further impair post-conflict peacebuilding. Citing the example of Bosnia, SRSG Patten warned about the lack of comprehensive compensation schemes on the further avenues for peace. Noting positive examples of prosecution for sexual violence in the DRC, South Sudan and Cote d’Ivoire, speakers also stressed that not a single member of ISIL or Boko Haram has been tried and held accountable for gendered crimes. To overcome gaps relating to weak rule of law, women’s access to justice, and harmful social norms, speakers demanded strengthening legal and evidentiary frameworks to enable prosecution and capacity-building among state and community judicial institutions. The representative of Japan shared his country’s work with the DRC government in creating 7 specialised units on sexual violence, including technical support for judicial investigations and mobile courts. The representative of Colombia also highlighted the inclusion of women as magistrates and officers in transformative justice processes in Colombia, as part of its gender-focused peace accord, as a good practice example.
The statement by civil society speaker was warmly welcomed and highlighted by the majority of Member State representatives. In fact, the role of civil society as valuable partners in conflict prevention and peacebuilding was clearly recognised at the debate, with representatives of France, Estonia and Ireland noting that women’s groups and organisations possess unique expertise that helps best understand the concerns and opportunities on the ground and can identify, design and implement practical strategies to overcome challenges. In praising progress made in Afghanistan and South Sudan, the representative of Bolivia called for increased cooperation between the United Nations and civil society to promote the political empowerment of women. Other initiatives in Colombia and the DRC, in relation to accountability and justice mechanisms, were referred to as good practices by Spain, Kazakhstan and the African Union to engage with women and civil societies in creating effective transitional justice mechanisms.
Overall, the distribution of references clearly demonstrates the focus of the debate on justice and accountability (72%), protection (63%), as well as women’s participation (50%). Indeed, efforts to prevent and address sexual violence were concentrated around enhancing gender justice and ensuring women’s engagement in developing further strategies. Positive numbers of representatives also drew attention to themes of conflict prevention (39%), and women’s access to land and resources (4%). Member States representatives recognised the lack of access to resources and services by specific groups in society, as both a root cause of sexual violence, as well as the driver of renewed violence in post-conflict stage (29%). It must be noted that despite this progress, integral pillars of the Agenda, such as disarmament, were only addressed by SRSG Pramila Patten and civil society speaker Razia Sultana.
Of the 68 delivered statements, 34 (50%) referenced women’s participation. Relevant statements called on the international community to promote the full participation of women in comprehensive prevention and protection efforts, including post-conflict reconciliation. As pointed out by the representative of Brazil, “there will only be peace if women effectively participate in these efforts”. 9 statements (13%) urged relevant parties to counter the shrinking space for civil society throughout the UN system and ensure the inclusion of local women’s organisations. The representative of Norway, in this vein, highlighted the role of women’s civil society in providing psychosocial and legal support for victims of sexual violence, claiming that maintaining such engagement is pivotal for effective response. Discussing the Spotlight Initiative to Eliminate Violence Against Women and Girls, the representative of the European Union noted that partnerships with CSO's and freedoms of women human rights defenders (WHRDs) are essential in fulfilling Initiative’s mission.
Of the 68 delivered statements, 43 (63%) referenced the need for providing support and access to resources for survivors of sexual violence. As prefaced by the SRSG, survivors endure multiple intersecting stigmas, including bearing children raped by the enemy and being perceived as affiliates of extremist or "enemy" groups. In response to challenges, several speakers called for the Council to scale-up educational awareness and capacity-building services for survivors. Other speakers also stressed the importance of reparations and economic empowerment programmes for survivors of sexual violence. One highlighted best practice included the cooperation between Kazakhstan, Japan and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to establish a trust fund in support of actions to eliminate violence against women in Afghanistan. As SRSG Patten reported, the presence of women’s protection advisers, who are responsible for convening the monitoring, analysis and reporting arrangements on conflict-related sexual violence in the field, has improved the availability and quality of information. To date, 21 women’s protection advisers have been deployed in 7 mission settings.
Under the innovative leadership of Peru, this year’s focus on prevention of sexual violence in conflict was pioneering in its approach to addressing root causes and recognising that strengthening women’s participation and rights is a critical part of preventing sexual violence and conflict. The statements by SRSG Patten and the civil society representative also took on new ground in highlighting the importance of addressing militarisation and political economies of gender equality versus war. As WILPF’s analysis has shown, increased militarisation and the arms trade fuel conflict and sexual violence. Military funding also diverts resources away from investments in conflict prevention mechanisms and community building programmes raised by speakers, including gender-training for humanitarian and protection personnel, capacity-building, access to education for girls, as well as health and reproductive services for vulnerable persons. In this light, further recognition and action are needed to support disarmament and political economies of gender justice and peace.
To strengthen political economies of peace, conflict prevention and gender equality, necessary to eradicate sexual violence, the Security Council should:
Support the political participation of marginalised women, including from rural communities and ethnic minorities, and support their analysis and work in building violence prevention and response mechanisms that ensure their safety and security.
Ensure effective and sustainable mechanisms for protecting women human rights defenders, women protection advisers, and civil society actors, and ensuring women’s human rights;
Support national mechanisms for rigorous, transparent and gendered risk assessments of international transfers of arms and export licences, developed in full consultation with civil society organisations;
Ensure consistent conflict analysis that recognises gendered power and takes action toward equality, disarmament and non-violence;
Prioritise investments in accessible, affordable and quality social infrastructure and essential services that reduce and redistribute women's unpaid care and domestic work;
Establish reparation funds to allow survivors to build livelihoods and facilitate their economic empowerment and socio-economic reintegration into society;
Provide financial, technical and political support to countries to encourage educational and leadership training for men, women, boys and girls, which reinforces and supports non-violent, non-militarised expressions of masculinity;
End impunity for all armed actors, both state and non-state and including Boko Haram and ISIL fighters, and ensure that crimes are investigated and perpetrators are brought to justice in line with international humanitarian and human rights law.
*** Prepared by Ijechi Nwaozuzu